Competing in Computers in the Network Era
Network computing is based on the convergence of computing, communications, and multimedia content. The concept has been the basis of visionary treatises on the information society as far back as the 1960s, 1 but the actual convergence always seemed just around the corner until the 1990s, when the Internet exploded onto the scene--the global network of networks that evolved from the U.S. Defense Department's ARPANET (created in 1973). However, use of the Internet had never spread much beyond the research and academic communities until the arrival of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. The hyperlinked Web, combined with graphical Web browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape Navigator, made it easy to navigate the Internet. Users clicked on a word or symbol and were quickly connected to a computer that could be located anywhere in the world. The Web also made it possible to embed words, pictures, sound, and video in a document, creating a true convergence of computing, communications, and content. Dependence on low-speed communications networks meant that using the Web could try one's patience, but companies, organizations, and individuals still poured onto the net with content ranging from annual reports to family photos. Meanwhile, electronic mail became an important, easy-to-use, and low-cost form of communication, allowing people to send and receive messages at their convenience and attach data files to their messages.
If the PC revolution caught many companies off guard during its decade- long march to overthrow the mainframe regime, the network era has been even more startling in its speed and impact on computer companies. By mid- 1995, Microsoft was launching its Microsoft Network as a proprietary online service. Other online companies such as America Online argued that Microsoft would have an unfair competitive advantage by virtue of bundling Microsoft Network with the company's Windows 95 operating system. By the end of that year, however, Internet fever had caught on so fast that Microsoft was scrambling to refocus its entire company on the Internet, partly to prevent